Aston Villa Football Club
The early days
Aston Villa Football Club has a proud heritage extending back to the late 1800s. Ironically, the club was formed by four avid cricket players from the Villa Cross Wesleyan Chapel cricket team. The players (Jack Hughes, Frederick Matthews, Walter Price and William Scattergood) formed the club in 1874, needing a new activity to get them through the boring winter months when they were unable to play cricket. The newly formed club won their first match, against Aston Brook St Mary’s Rugby team, following a second-half goal by Jack Hughes. Aston Villa initially played their home football at the Perry Barr HQ and quickly established themselves as a formidable footballing force. The early 1880s saw rapid improvement and a first honour win, as Villa won the Birmingham Senior Cup under the leadership of George Ramsay.
This success was negligible, though, compared with the events of the late 1880s. Football turned professional in 1885 and this marked a significant turning point for the club. Archie Hunter captained Aston Villa to a magnificent FA Cup win in 1887, beating West Bromwich in the final at The Oval. This success simultaneously delighted and frustrated the Villa director, William McGregor, since club attendances were only high for FA Cup matches. He realised that in order to maintain interest in the sport and improve the level of the game, the best teams in the country needed to play each other on a regular basis. Thus, Aston Villa became one of 12 teams to compete in the first ever Football League in 1888.
The honour of scoring the club’s first league goal went to Tom Green, who scored against Wolverhampton Wanderers on September 8th, 1888. At the end of the first Football League season, Aston Villa finished in an impressive second place. During the years that followed, Villa continued to improve but had to wait until the 1893-94 season to lift the Championship trophy for the first time. Further league wins in the 1895-96 and 1896-97 seasons, increased crowd attendances to an average of approximately 25,000 people for every home match. This led to Frederick Rinder, the club’s financial secretary, starting the process of purchasing Villa’s current home ground, the Aston Lower Grounds (now universally referred to as Villa Park).
The early 1900s
In less than 30 years, Aston Villa had established itself as a real footballing force and the move to the Aston Lower Grounds reinforced this fact. The start of the century was dominated, in the football world, by Villa. They were the champions of the 1899-1900 season and great things were expected from the team in the years that followed. However, it soon became evident that the club were not going to get things their own way. The competition between the sides in the Football League was intensifying, as the smaller clubs became more successful and started to close the gap upon the bigger clubs. This resulted in Villa finishing the first season of the new century in a shocking position in the league – fourth from bottom.
The following season, Villa’s fortunes turned and they finished second in the league, just one point behind the champions. The club experienced further domestic cup success in 1905, winning the FA Cup in front of over 100,000 fans. Further league success had to wait, however, until 1910, when Villa won a record sixth title. By the time that the club had won a fifth FA Cup in 1913, the club had become one of the most successful in the country. This period before the start of World War I is often referred to as Aston Villa’s golden era, and for good reason.
Between the wars
The years immediately following World War I were not filled with success for Aston Villa. They were victorious once again in the FA Cup at the close of the 1919-20 season but failed to make a lasting impression upon the Football League of the 1920s. This decade will be remembered by fans of the club, though, since it witnessed the arrival of two goal-scoring legends. Eric Houghton arrived in 1927 and Tom Waring came in 1928, to attempt to reverse Villa’s bad fortune in the league. The impact of the new arrivals was not immediate but Waring’s incredible total of 49 league goals and Houghton’s 30 goals during the 1930-31 season helped the team finish second in the league, behind a victorious Arsenal side.
The goal-scoring records of the two new players were indeed impressive. However, the team’s magnificent attacking prowess could not lead the club to success due to Villa’s increasingly leaky defence. Furthermore, certain fans speculated that there were deeply ingrained problems at the club, with many believing that the international players in the team were growing complacent. Villa’s problems led them to their first relegation at the end of the 1935-36 season. The team took some time to adjust to conditions in the Second Division but finished as Champions in 1937-38. At the close of the inter-war period, Aston Villa were back where they belonged, in top-flight football.
The Post-war period
As with all areas of British society, World War II had a devastating effect upon the sport of football. The game had been rendered redundant for a total of seven seasons, during which time many careers had been cut short and the team had obviously not been able to practise together. The misery of the Aston Villa home crowd was compounded when the team lost their first home match following the war, against Middlesbrough. Former Villa player, Alex Massie, took control of the club and had high hopes of reforming it successfully. Massie made several high-profile signings and led the team to consistent mid-table league finishes.
The former prolific goal-scorer, Eric Houghton, who had been such a favourite with the Villa fans, returned to his old club to take charge in 1953. In 1957, he led the team to their first piece of silverware for 37 years, after beating Manchester United in the FA Cup Final.
Despite this success, complacency once again crept into the Aston Villa side and they were relegated from the top-flight in 1959. This acted as a wake-up call to several of the players and the team finished as Second Division Champions in 1960. The team were keen not to let their standards slip anymore and went on to win the first League Cup in 1961.
Changes at the club
It became clear towards the end of the 1960s that serious changes needed to take place at Villa Park. The 1960s proved to be a disappointing decade for the team, as they were relegated to the Second Division once again in 1967, following a successive run of appalling league finishing positions. The club desperately needed drastic changes to occur, from the top, all the way down to the bottom. The fans believed that the club’s problem was its ageing board, who seemed disillusioned with the practicalities of the game. 1968 proved to be a pivotal year for the club in this respect, as the entire board was forced to resign, with Villa lying at the foot of the Second Division.
A new board and manager were put in place quickly and were given the task of saving the club, which was heavily in debt at this point. New manager, Tommy Docherty, was put in a tough position and despite some initial success, he was sacked. Following this departure, Villa slumped shockingly to the Third Division in 1970. They did not bounce back to the second division immediately as many had predicted, but did win the division in 1972.
Influential manager, Ron Saunders, was brought to the club following the 1973-74 season, with the aim of winning promotion back to the top-tier of English football. Without signing many new players, Saunders managed to achieve his aim during his first year in charge. He furthered this success by leading Villa to League Cup victory. This Cup win gained them qualification for the UEFA Cup for the first time in their history. Although Villa largely failed in the European competition, their period of improvement and restoration culminated in a further League Cup victory in 1977.
Saunders continued to be an incredibly successful manager for Aston Villa, leading them to a First Division Championship win in 1981, for the first time since 1910. However, due to a disagreement with Villa’s board, the popular manager was forced out of the club half-way through the 1981-82 season. At this stage of the season, Villa were in the quarter-finals of the European Cup. Tony Barton took over control of the club and led them to victories in the quarter-final and semi-final stages of the competition. These wins set up an intriguing final against Bayern Munich in Rotterdam. Aston Villa defeated Bayern Munich by 1 goal to 0, becoming one of only four English teams to have won the European Cup. Many fans regard this success as the proudest moment in Villa’s history.
Unfortunately for Villa fans, this success did not last long. The rest of the 1980s saw the club decline rapidly and they were relegated in 1987. They won promotion back to the top-flight the following year and finished as runners-up in the league in 1989.
The Premiership days
1992 saw the formation of the Premier League and Aston Villa were one of its founding members. The first Premier League season was tightly contested and Villa were unlucky to lose out on the Championship to Manchester United. The rest of the decade saw instability creep into the club, though, as they changed managers three times and suffered from inconsistent league positions. The highlight of these early Premiership years for the club was a League Cup win in 1994, followed by another in 1996.
The fans were happy with this success but wanted to be victorious in the league and FA Cup as well. 2000 brought an opportunity for the club to win the FA Cup for the first time since 1957. Chelsea awaited Aston Villa in the final, the last game to be played at the old Wembley. Unfortunately, Chelsea proved to be too strong for Villa and the team were defeated 1-0.
Aston Villa continued to suffer from inconsistency and poor form forcing unpopular manager, David O’Leary to leave the club in 2006. Villa fans were thrilled when Martin O’Neill arrived to replace O’Leary and Randy Lerner replaced Doug Ellis as chairman. The new arrivals ushered in a period of optimism for the club, with some improved performances and new players such as John Carew and Ashley Young exciting the fans.
Martin O’Neill strengthened his squad during the transfer window prior to the start of the 2007/08 season. Among the most exciting additions to the squad are Nigel Reo-Coker and Marlon Harewood. This season has seen the team start brightly as they embark on the mission of making Europe.
Domestic league titles
- First Division Champions: 1893-94, 1895-96, 1896-97, 1898-99, 1899-1900, 1909-10, 1980-81
- Second Division Champions: 1937-38, 1959-60
- Third Division Champions: 1971-72
Domestic cup wins
- FA Cup Winners: 1887, 1895, 1897, 1905, 1913, 1920, 1957
- League Cup Winners: 1961, 1975, 1977, 1994, 1996
- Charity Shield Winners: 1981 (shared)
- UEFA Champions League winners (Former European Cup): 1982
- European Super Cup winners: 1982-83
- InterToto Cup winners: 2001
- 98 seasons in top-flight football
- One of only 7 teams to have played in every Premiership season
- Sixth in the All-time FA Premier League table
- Fourth most successful club in English footballing history
- Record-holders for highest number of league goals scored in a season: 128 goals in the 1930-31 season